The story of our history, our heritage and our culture was for a long time confined to well-defined spaces such as libraries, museums, historical monuments, and schools. However, this territory is expanding. With digital technology, cultural mediation moves beyond traditional spaces and deploys itself more effectively to every sphere of our daily lives.
Two trends are emerging: the creation of “augmented” spaces and the expansion of the cultural mediation territory. I met with the proponents of the Voyages Sonores 3D and Cube projects. These two creative works illustrate these trends well.
“Augmented” mediation spaces
Museums and historical monuments are two types of exceptional and privileged spaces to implement new digital experiences. However, these mediation spaces are often faced with a complex reality: the diversity of the groups that visit them.
Added to this, another challenge needs to be met: these digital works must be developed in such a way that they will be appreciated by multiple users simultaneously, whereas digital experiences are largely developed to be lived in solo. The constraint is therefore twofold: the diversity of uses and the multi-user experience.
Possibilities made available by virtual reality
To solve this equation, today’s support of choice appears to be virtual reality (VR). For example,La bibliothèque, la nuit proposes a visit of ten contemporary, antique or imaginary libraries. It remains a mainly individualistic experience that is lived side by side with other visitors.
Other works go even further. That’s the case namely of The Enemy, coproduced with the NFB among others, in which the VR experience takes on a collective dimension. You evolve in a particularly vast space in which you encounter enemy combatants face to face. They tell you their stories and share their motivations with you.
Narrative and its Voyages Sonores 3D
Beyond VR, it is possible to use augmented sound reality. That is the choice made by Narrative (and its partners: the Abbaye aux Dames, La cité Musicale, Modulo digital, and Aubry & Guiguet) for its Voyages Sonores 3D which includes an experience that showcases the Abbaye aux Dames, in France.
While you are visiting this historical monument dating back to the 11th century, your headset triggers a series of 13 audio stories that were recorded at the same place where you are listening to them.
As you may notice in the above photo, it is a binaural recording, i.e., a recording that most accurately reproduces 360° human hearing. It uses two microphones positioned on the ears of a fake head made of silicone, thus enabling you to identify if a sound is coming from the left or the right.
“We found it ingenious to use 3D sound for this patrimonial project. We didn’t want to set up screens in a place that can be visited in person. We wanted to focus on freedom of movement and avoid all converging toward the same screen. That is what inspired this work, which makes it possible to tell a story and to experience invisible things while breathing in the surroundings. […] Sound truly is a great way to stimulate the imagination and bring the invisible to life. In cultural and heritage settings, we often wish to tell the story of what is not visible and the fact of being able to tell it without actually seeing it is something that makes a very strong impression.”
– Cécile Cros, Narrative’s cofounder
We are therefore a very long way from traditional audio guides, and the result is more than convincing in terms of both audience satisfaction and economic results. The number of visitors having paid to experience this audio visit increased by 50%. The economic interest is also confirmed for Narrative: the production company is already seeking to apply the concept to other places and other stories.
“For the first time in Narrative’s history, we have tried to model this experience on our good practices: a story that is automatically triggered, an attempt to have users forget about the screen, an inner adventure that reflects the reality of the people who experienced it.”
– Cécile Cros, Narrative’s cofounder
What appears here is the permeability of mediation spaces in the digital—and mobile—era which makes it possible to propose new stories that are experienced on site, within spaces that are not generally considered as places of knowledge and culture.
Expansion of cultural mediation’s territory
The first solution to have culture leave museums is to “move” the museums to you. That is what proposes, for example, the Art of Corner studio with L’Atelier Utrillo, a photogrammetric (i.e., which reproduces human stereoscopic vision) reproduction of the famous painter’s workshop at Paris’ Montmartre museum.
But it is also possible, using our mobile devices, to transform our environment into a cultural mediation space as several applications have already done, including Montréal en Histoires, which proposes a discovery of the city’s history in augmented reality, and Cinemacity, which geolocates film excerpts exactly where they were shot, thereby opening up new possibilities in terms of cultural discoveries.
I could go on and on and on, seeing as the experiences aimed at deporting cultural mediation from museums and schools are extremely numerous and take advantage of all existing media platforms.
In Amsterdam, Anne Frank’s House uses a conversational bot to tell us the story of its famous resident. In London, Secret Cinema is organizing cult film projections against phenomenal backdrops that reproduce the work’s universe. The Framestore company uses a school bus to have children discover the surface of planet Mars as part of an entertaining and teaching experience.
Cube: a mobile collective immersion device
Possibilities are as numerous as the supports are, and that is without counting the creators who create their own supports! That’s the case of Bachibouzouk and Black Euphoria, the two companies that created the Cube, a mobile device that makes it possible to present immersive experiences to several people simultaneously.
These designers came up with the idea to overcome the difficulty of presenting VR experiences to a wider audience. Most often, the choice is made to set up a few dozen swivelling chairs and hand out headsets to visitors. But it isn’t really a collective experience since it’s impossible to slip a comment to one’s neighbour or to perceive others’ reactions because of the sensory isolation.
“What is very interesting about the Cube is that it creates social interaction during the projection, something that we had lost with the headsets. The audience reacts as if it were watching television and can lean toward the person next to them and peep out ‘This scene is incredible’ or ‘This scene makes me think of this or that’.”
– Laurent Duret, founder of Bachibouzouk
VR often forces us to comment and give meaning to the experience once the headset is off. Here, the Cube allows for real-time interactions. The presence of the other members of the audience therefore becomes part of the work itself and we are getting closer to immersive cinema or theatre. For the directors of the works showcased in the Cube—such as Bruno Masi, who directed the film Eldorado—this opens the door to a new creative outlet.
“What is interesting is that the Cube opens up possibilities associated for the last 30 years with site-specific theatre. In my opinion, the device reactivates elements of interactive theatre, of street theatre. More specifically, it reactivates the relations between spectators and actors. That opens up a host of possibilities that are leagues away from the isolation that is usually associated with VR.”
– Bruno Masi, director
The creators of the Cube continue to make improvements to the device as they produce new works and they also encourage other producers to imagine further improvements to make it even better. The long-term vision is one of creating a network of Cubes to serve as a distribution circuit of 360° works and thereby contribute to solving the outlet problem facing VR creations.
Cultural places have everything to gain from digital experiences, and digital experiences transform ordinary spaces into cultural places. Today’s creative opportunities are more numerous than ever before in a world that disposes of huge resources.
It is to foster this convergence of the audiovisual and video entertainment industries with the cultural mediation sector that the Sunny Side of the Doc festival in La Rochelle proposed its Pixiispace devoted to digital cultural experiences.
It’s an experience that will be proposed once again in June 2018, during the next edition of the festival, and we can only hope that the trend will spread to other venues seeing as it represents a market that is full of promise for audiovisual producers seeking to establish new partnerships and new ways to reach their audiences.